CEOs will do anything for a tax cut, but they won't coddle Nazis.
That's true even of Blackstone Group Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Stephen Schwarzman, who, as we'll get to in a minute, has said some tone-deaf things about Nazis as recently as two days ago. But despite that, he and every other business leader on President Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum decided to disband the council in response to Trump's insistence that there were some “very fine people” at the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville last week.
This is what counts as progress in America in 2017.
Now, it's worth talking about Schwarzman, because he has been emblematic of the corporate class's love affair both with tax cuts and with Trump. Indeed, despite his 11-figure net worth, Schwarzman has been so concerned with minimizing his tax bill that, in 2010, he said President Barack Obama's attempt to close the loophole that allows private equity executives such as himself to have their performance fees taxed at the capital gains rate of 23.8 percent instead of the top ordinary income rate of 39.6 percent was “like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.” This might sound like the rantings of a moral midget who can't imagine anything worse than his taxes going up, but, well, think about it. Obama wanted to get rid of an unjustifiable subsidy for the richest people in our society, and Hitler wanted to kill all Jews, Slavs, Roma, gays, disabled people and anyone else he deemed unfit to live as part of his genocidal war that claimed the lives of tens of millions. Chilling similarities.
Say what you want about Schwarzman's understanding of the tenets of National Socialism, though, at least he got one thing right: The Nazis were bad. That's admittedly the lowest of bars, but it's one that he briefly stumbled over the past few days. According to Bloomberg News, Schwarzman first thought that Trump had been unfairly criticized for his failure to explicitly denounce neo-Nazis in the wake of one of them killing a counterprotester in Charlottesville last weekend. Which is to say that Schwarzman was so devoted to a president he thought would cut his taxes that he was willing to make excuses for him when Trump said both sides were to blame for a white supremacist killing a counterprotester.
Schwarzman, then, thought that someone who wanted to raise his taxes was like a Nazi, but someone who wanted to cut them was okay even if he struggled to condemn actual Nazis.
This is the kind of thing you can keep up only as long as you don't think about it. Once he did, Schwarzman couldn't help but do what the rest of Corporate America is: coming to terms with the fact that the bottom line isn't always the bottom line. That even though Trump has promised to cut their taxes and deregulate their industries, they can't be associated with someone who says there were some “very fine people” in a torch-wielding crowd that was chanting “Jews will not replace us.” The result has been a corporate exodus from any and everything related to Trump.
This has been a long time coming. CEOs, you see, spent years complaining about all the uncertainty that Obama was allegedly creating, but then celebrated a president who alternately tweeted out threats to blow up North Korea or health insurance markets — all because they thought there was a tax cut coming at the end of it. “To have such a pro-business president,” Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank said in February, “is something that's a real asset for this country.” So business leaders for the most part sat silently as Trump attacked their stated values of diversity and inclusion — whether that was by trying to ban Muslims or demonizing Mexican immigrants — as long as they could hold out hope that he'd help them with their most important value: profitability.
But no more. We've found the red line. Apparently pandering to Nazis isn't worth a tax cut.